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Cinco de Mayo: Why do we celebrate?

Cinco de Mayo Battle of Publa reenactment
Posted at 2:55 PM, May 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-02 17:55:47-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Cinco de Mayo (May 5) is a holiday widely celebrated in the United States with Mexican food, drinks and events. But not many know what the holiday commemorates.

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated on Sept. 16. The day commemorates the Mexican army’s May 5, 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, according to

Before the Battle of Puebla

In 1861, Benito Juarez had recently been elected as president of Mexico. During that time Mexico was in financial debt to Spain, Britain and France and had no money to pay their taxes. Juarez was forced to default on all payments to the European countries which prompted the three countries to send naval forces to Veracruz, Mexico. Juarez was able to negotiate with Spain and Britain to withdraw their forces.

France which was ruled by Napoleon III took advantage with the intent to create a French territory.

The Battle of Puebla

In 1862, 6,000 French soldiers were sent to the city of Puebla and were met by Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza who along with his 2,000 Mexican soldiers fortified the town and prepared for the French army's arrival.

On May 5, 1862, the French soldiers led by Charles Latrille de Lorencez arrived and were taken by surprise by the Mexican soldiers. The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening when the French finally retreated after losing 500 soldiers. Mexico lost less than 100 soldiers in the battle.

The History Channel said the Battle of Puebla wasn’t a major strategic win in the overall war against France, but Mexico’s success in the clash represented a symbolic victory for the government and it strengthened the resistance movement.

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Why it's celebrated

Cinco de Mayo isn’t a huge holiday in Mexico except for the state of Puebla. But it’s evolved over the years in the U.S. as a day to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage through festivals, food, drinks and parades.

California began celebrating Cinco de Mayo in 1863 to show solidarity with Mexico against the French, according to Henry Ford College.

By the 1930s, the holiday spread and was considered an opportunity to celebrate Mexican identity. The holiday is still not recognized as a federal holiday in the United States, but Congress did issue a proclamation calling on Americans to observe Cinco de Mayo.